MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — Back in 1978 there was a punk rock song by the group Barnes and Barnes that became a hit on the New Wave charts. It went:

“Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads”

So, what does a punk song from the 70s have to do with the outdoors in Virginia in 2023?

Plenty. Sort of.

At least the fish heads part.

Fish heads, more specifically striped bass heads are being collected for study by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Fisheries biologists are studying the otolith bones from those heads to determine striped bass growth rates at Smith Mountain Lake. Once those growth rates are established, fisheries managers have a better idea of the lake’s striped bass population, and what steps to take to manage the fishery.

The DWR is getting help from private groups like the Smith Mountain Striper Club (SMSC).

“They extract the otolith from the fish and put it under a microscope,” said SMSC President Chad Gilmore. “Much like a tree it has rings, and it tells the age of the fish. Then they compare the age to the length of the fish to make sure the fish are growing at the desired rate.”

A tagged and bagged striped bass is ready for collection and study (Photo: George Noleff)

The SMSC is getting help from various businesses at Smith Mountain Lake like Captain’s Quarters.

“It’s the life of the fishery,” said Captain’s Quarters Owner Dewayne Lamb. “It’s the future of the fishery if you will. We need to protect that.”

Heads dropped off by anglers should include the date the fish was caught, where it was caught, and the length of the fish. Adding the weight of the fish is optional.

Dewayne Lamb of Captain’s Quarters examines a bagged fish head in the freezer at his store (Photo: George Noleff)

Smith Mountain Lake is one of the top freshwater trophy striper fisheries in the country, so all data collected helps the DWR manage it for that purpose. Growth rates can help to determine stocking levels, forage base, and fisheries management plans.

Special thanks to the Akron Sound Museum/Cleveland Memory Project/CSU for the use of the historical photos in the video piece.